Shula visits with Oakley family

With academic concerns plaguing several of Bama's key recruits, it's good news to Tide fans that Will Oakley remains firmly committed. This past week he hosted Alabama coaches for an in-home visit.

"Coach Shula was sincere, personable, and made a great impression on us," Oakley said afterwards.

Of course Alabama fans are understandably curious about their first-year head coach. Shula built an impressive resume' as an assistant in the NFL ranks before taking over at The Capstone. But this is his first time around "closing the deal" in recruiting.

"He will have no problem winning the recruiting battles in living rooms of prospects across the country in future years," was Oakley's assessment of Mike Shula.

Tall and fast, Oakley played both cornerback and wide receiver in high school.

Alabama receivers Coach Charlie Harbison accompanied Shula on his visit to the Oakley home.

The Oakleys asked questions during this 2-hour session ranging from what they could expect on Will's upcoming official visit (1/24) to the Alabama campus, to how Coach Shula sees Oakley contributing to Alabama's offensive schemes, to the mechanics of what will actually happen on National Signing Day.

Shula handled the evening with ease.

"He thoroughly answered our questions, often relying on his unique experience as a former player at Alabama and as a player and coach in the NFL," Will Oakley related.

Oakley and his family had visited Alabama several times on unofficial trips during the recent season. Plus he attended Alabama's summer mini-camp. So everyone already knew each other.

But the in-home visit was a chance for Shula to showcase his personality, reassuring Oakley's parents that their son would be in safe hands for the next four (or five) years.

"Coach Shula gave a short overview of the Alabama program," Oakley related. "He talked about his experience as a player, the Tide's winning tradition, the facilities and ongoing improvements on campus, Alabama's academic support program--that kind of thing."

As Oakley recalls, Shula also used the time to speak at length about his plans for the Alabama program, both short- and long-term.

Early in the recruiting process Will Oakley (6-1, 190, 4.44) was a classic "sleeper prospect." As the numbers indicate, his physical tools matched those of higher-profile recruits. But before his senior season he was noted mainly as a defensive back.

Oakley hauls in one of his 14 touchdown receptions this year.

The Nease High School coaches moved him to offense this year, and Oakley responded by putting up eye-popping numbers. He led the state of Florida in receiving with 1,283 yards in receptions (a new record for Northeast Florida).

The Florida native caught 67 passes for 14 touchdowns, averaging an impressive 19.1 yards per reception. According to his coaches, Oakley accumulated nearly 500 yards in so-called "YAKs," yards after the catch. In no less than eight games he gained 125 yards or more from his wide receiver spot.

Predictably, the post-season honors have rolled in.

Oakley was a nominee for Florida's prestigious "Mr. Football" award, the FACA Player of the Year in District 5, first-team All-State, and a member of the Florida Times Union's "Super 24."

The athletic wideout will participate in the California versus Florida All-Star game later this year.

By the way, as every recruiting fan knows, 40-yard dash times are notoriously unreliable. But Oakley was a state finalist in the 110-meter hurdles last year as a junior.

Will comes by his athleticism honestly. His father, Bill Oakley, played baseball for Alabama from 1978 to 1982.

As Oakley accumulated the offensive stats, various football programs around the South took notice. But he hasn't wavered from his pledge to sign with the Tide.

"I'm firmly committed to Alabama," he stated. "But I still receive calls and scholarship offers (from other schools)."

The Nease High School coaches switched Oakley over to offense this season.

With Bama's season now finished, Mike Shula has been racking up the frequent-flyer miles, jetting all over the Southeast meeting with recruits and their families for in-home visits.

"We appreciate the fact that Coach Shula would take time from his busy schedule this time of year to personally make the trip to Florida to talk with us," Oakley said.

RECRUITING NOTES: Alabama is allowed to bring in 19 new scholarshipped players this fall. The Tide is expected to sign as many as 22 players in February, anticipating that several will not become qualified. It's also possible that one or more players may be asked to delay entry into The University until the following January, counting against 2005 scholarship numbers, depending on how qualifying issues play out.

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